The thing about emotional pain, is that it needs to come out. It sits there, squished down by alcohol, food, or whatever your escape of choice is. It changes your everyday life in ways you don’t even realise, and it taps you on the shoulder like a ghost, even years later.
So what do we do with the pain when it won’t stay silent anymore. When it intrudes on your days, nights, and even your happy moments? We fear it will take us over, like the Pandora’s box version of opening the all powerful crypt in an adventure movie. Our fear is that it will destroy us and others around us. But fear is often way worse than the reality. Or is it a little like procrastination, letting ourselves believe it’s likely to be that bad so that we can excuse ourselves for not facing it.
The thing about pain, is that we actually need to feel it. Seethe in its anger, bathe in its tears, pace with its anxiety. We need to sit with it. Comfort the sadness, acknowledge its anger, and validate its anxiety. Everyone copes in different ways, but the real question is whether or not your coping style helps you walk through the emotions, or attempts to escape or avoid them.
I was thinking the other night, about how it feels to make it through pain, and I could only really think of the physical achievement of walking over hot coals. Apparently it gives people exhilarating feelings of achievement. I was thinking that perhaps in order to walk through pain properly, I need to be willing to walk through the emotional hot coals of pain. I need to sit in the pain, face it, feel it, be with it. In grief counselling training we were taught that people need to tell their story of grief over and over again. Perhaps going over the details of the moment of a person’s death, or finding them dead, is like the action of walking over hot coals. The reality is that people need to talk through things over and over again to recover from the trauma they experienced.
So I’m seeking the hot coals of my grieving at the moment. A grief that began when I found out my father had Parkinson’s Disease, 21 years ago. That’s such a long lot of time to search for points of great pain, but I need to find them in order to recover.
It can take years. Every time there is a similar sort of loss, it will re-surface. During traditionally celebrated times of the year, absences will bring back the pain of the loss. There are also those aspects of life that blindsight us with the grief. Things that take us back to memories, emotions or parts of the grief we have yet to explore.
So there is no shortcut. There’s no template. No ceremony I can do to help me expedite this process. I just need to walk through it… moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day, week by week, month by month, and year by year.
In the meantime I feel the pull from society, which really doesn’t account for grieving, outside of the funeral. People are kind for a few weeks, but then it’s expected that you move on. As a neighbour who lost his wife only 6 months ago said “I don’t want to bring the mood down for everyone” I pondered why he might be so worried about something perfectly natural. It’s because society pushes us towards being “happy”, “fun to be with” and constantly achieving.
So where is the space for us to properly grieve if we can’t tell our stories, allow ourselves to cry, and walk through the many many pits of hot coals in our emotions?
Perhaps I’m lucky, because I can write. It might feel self-indulgent, but I can work through that grief in words. No one ever has to see or hear those words though, and that can feel empty sometimes. How good would you feel about walking over hot coals if no one even saw you do it? Or maybe that’s not even the question. Do you think you could walk through hot coals if no one was there to cheer you on? Socially we need that support. We need someone to listen. We need someone to encourage us. Recovery can’t happen in a vacuum.
Does that mean we need to attend years of therapy? Our society definitely doesn’t support that. Do we confide in friends? Perhaps, but it can feel like a lot to accept from others who have heard the stories, or seen us over each bed of emotional hot coals once, but become bewildered when we need to walk that particular one yet again. What about support groups? These can be great to address some of the universal factors of whatever we have been through, but not the individual aspects. In such an unforgiving environment, it’s tempting to just bury your bed of hot coals, but it can’t cool that way, so when you eventually dig it up, it can have the temperature it had when you buried it. So burying your pain deep doesn’t diffuse it, or allow it to lessen over time like walking through it does.
For my water, used to cool my virtual feet after walking over the virtual hot coals, I have the coping styles of music, movies, crying, keeping busy, distraction, and the least favoured food consumption (doughnuts in particular). Some days I have used ALL of these tools, yet been unable to walk through the pain. Of course, when dipping a virtual toe is so immediately painful, much water is required just to enter the pain. Over time, hot coals eventually cool. Likewise, the entrance into emotional pain does become less painful with each attempt. So I am doing my best to face the pain I find every day, to experience and express it every chance I get, and hopefully one day I shall make it across that pit of hot coals that represents the heartbroken emotional turmoil experienced due to my fathers death. That way, I can enjoy the virtues of having had such a wonderful father, without feeling so much pain every time I think of him.
Are you afraid to walk through your pain?
Are there painful aspects of your life that you dismiss in avoidant dance steps?
When you do find the emotional pain to walk through, what tools do you take to help you through?